A shared universe or shared world is a set of creative works where more than one writer (or other artist) independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project. It is common in genres like science fiction.
The term shared universe is also used within comics to reflect the overall milieu created by the comic book publisher in which characters, events, and premises from one product line appear in other product lines in a media franchise.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Originating in novels
- 3 Originating in film and television
- 4 Originating in comics
- 5 Originating in video games and the Internet
- 6 Other shared media franchises
- 7 Multimedia franchises
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Literature
Fiction in some media, such as most television programs and many comic book titles, is understood to require the contribution of multiple authors and does not by itself create a shared universe and is considered a collaborative art form. Incidental appearances, such as that of d'Artagnan in Cyrano de Bergerac, are considered literary cameo appearances. More substantial interaction between characters from different sources is often marketed as a crossover. While crossovers occur in a shared universe, not all crossovers are intended to merge their settings' back-stories and are instead used for marketing, parody, or to explore "what-if" scenarios.
It can become difficult for writers contributing to a shared universe to maintain consistency and avoid contradicting details in earlier works, especially when a shared universe grows to be very large. The version deemed "official" by the author or company controlling the setting is known as canon. Not all shared universes have a controlling entity capable of or interested in determining canonicity, and not all fans agree with these determinations when they occur. A fanon may instead find some degree of consensus within the setting's fandom.
Some writers, in an effort to ensure that a canon can be established and to keep details of the setting believable, employ tools to correct contradictions and errors that result from multiple contributors working over a long period of time. One such tool is retconning, short for "retroactive continuity", which resolves errors in continuity that came about through previously-written conflicting material.
Readers may also object when a story or series is integrated into a shared universe, feeling it "requir[es] one hero's fans to buy other heroes' titles".
Originating in novels
The expansion of existing material into a shared universe is not restricted to settings licensed from movies and television. For example, Larry Niven opened his Known Space setting to other writers initially because he considered his lack of military experience prevented him from adequately describing the wars between mankind and the Kzinti. The degree to which he has made the setting available for other writers became a topic of controversy, when Elf Sternberg created an erotic short story set in Known Space following an author's note from Niven indicating that "[i]f you want more Known Space stories, you'll have to write them yourself". Niven has since clarified that his setting is still to be used only "under restricted circumstances and with permission", which Niven granted to the several authors of the Man-Kzin Wars series. By contrast, author Eric Flint has edited and published collaborations with fan fiction writers directly, expanding his 1632 series.
A setting may also be expanded in a similar manner after the death of its creator, although this posthumous expansion does not meet some strict definitions of a shared universe. One such example is August Derleth's development of the Cthulhu Mythos from the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, an approach whose result is considered by some to be "completely dissimilar" to Lovecraft's own works. Less controversial posthumous expansions include Ruth Plumly Thompson's and later authors' sequels to L. Frank Baum's Oz stories and the further development of Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe by Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and David Brin.
Many other published works of this nature take the form of a series of short-story anthologies with occasional standalone novels. Examples include Robert Lynn Asprin's Thieves' World, C. J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights and Janet Morris' Heroes in Hell.
Universes in literature
- Bridwell universe (such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Witch Next Door, and Tiny Family), created by Norman Bridwell
- Busytown, created by Richard Scarry
- CoDominium, created by Jerry Pournelle
- Cosmere, created by Brandon Sanderson
- Cthulhu Mythos, created by H. P. Lovecraft
- Deathstalker by Simon R. Green
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Seussville, created by by Dr. Seuss
- The Eight Worlds, created by John Varley
- Emberverse, created by S. M. Stirling
- Eric Carle Universe, created by Eric Carle
- Golden Books universe (with exceptions with licensed characters)
- Heroes in Hell, edited by Janet Morris
- Honorverse, created by David Weber
- Known Space, created by Larry Niven
- Liaden universe, created by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
- Middle-earth, created by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Noon Universe, created by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
- The Shadowhunter Chronicles, originally created and edited by Cassandra Clare
- Thieves' World, originally created and edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey
- The Trillium series, created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Andre Norton and Julian May
- Uplift Universe, created by David Brin
- The Way, created by Greg Bear
- Wessex, created by Thomas Hardy
- Yoknapatawpha County, created by William Faulkner
- Agatha Christie's fictional universe
- S. E. Hinton's continuity
- Rick Riordan's works based on mythology
Originating in film and television
Universes in films
- Universal Monsters (1931–1948)
- Alien and Predator (1979–present)
- Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1980–2003)
- Blade Runner and Soldier (1982–present)
- The Principal and Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1987–1990)
- View Askewniverse (1994–present)
- Men in Black and 21 Jump Street (1997–present) 
- Anaconda and Lake Placid (1997–2015)
- Dead Men Walking and Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers (2005–2006)
- Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–present)
- DC Extended Universe (2013–present)
- Sharknado and Lavalantula (2013–present)
- Universal Monsters (rebooted franchise) (2014–present)
- Godzilla-Kong cinematic universe (2014–present)
Universes in television
- Guiding Light and other series (1952–present)[note 1]
- The Muppets and Sesame Street (1955–present)
- 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6 (1958–1964)
- General Hospital and other series (1962–present)[note 2]
- Whoniverse (Doctor Who, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and related media) (1963–present)
- Ultra Series (1966–present)
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant (1970–1982)
- Toei tokusatsu universe (Kamen Rider, Kikaider, Inazuman, Super Sentai, Kaiketsu Zubat and Metal Hero) (1971–present)
- Cannon and Barnaby Jones (1971–1980)
- Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Hello, Larry (1978–1988)
- The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Nurses and The Golden Palace (1985–1995)
- Magnum, P.I., Simon & Simon, Whiz Kids, Murder, She Wrote and The Law & Harry McGraw (1980–1996)
- The Cosby Show and A Different World (1984–1993)
- Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Grange Hill, Brookside, EastEnders and Hollyoaks (1960–present)
- The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres (1962–1971)
- Batman and The Green Hornet (1966–1968)
- Dragnet, Adam-12, Emergency! and Sierra (1967–1974)
- Dad's Army, Are You Being Served?, 'Allo 'Allo! and Hi-de-Hi! (1968–1992).
- Cheers, Wings, Frasier and The Tortellis (1982–2004)
- Full House and other series (1987–present)[note 3]
- Law & Order franchise (1990–present)[note 4]
- Power Rangers, Masked Rider and Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1993–present)
- The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen (1993–present)
- NYPD Blue and other series (1993–2008)[note 5]
- Walker, Texas Ranger and Sons of Thunder (1993–2001)
- ER, Third Watch and Medical Investigation (1994–2009)
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Princess Warrior and Young Hercules (1995–2001)
- JAG, First Monday, NCIS, Hawaii Five-0 and Scorpion (1995–present)
- Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens (1996–2007)
- The Pretender and Profiler (1996–2000)
- Buffyverse (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and related media) (1997–2004)
- Dawson's Creek and Young Americans (1998–2003)
- CSI, Without a Trace and Cold Case (2000–present)
- Crossing Jordan and Las Vegas (2000–2008)
- Disney Channel sitcoms[note 6]
- One Tree Hill and Life Unexpected (2003–2012)
- Nickelodeon sitcoms (Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, Victorious, Sam & Cat and Henry Danger) (2004–present)
- Prison Break and Breakout Kings (2005–present)
- Bones, The Finder and Sleepy Hollow (2005–present)
- Eureka, Warehouse 13 and Alphas (2006–2014)
- Flashpoint and The Listener (2008–2014)
- The Vampire Diaries and The Originals (2009–present)
- Pretty Little Liars and Ravenswood (2010–present)
- American Horror Story (2011–present)
- Lab Rats, Mighty Med and Lab Rats: Elite Force (2012–present)
- American Crime Story (2016–present)
The spin-off media extending of the universe originating in Doctor Who has relatively little consistency given its division into audio plays produced by Big Finish and the BBC, the New Adventures universe novel, or a universe based on comics published in Doctor Who Magazine and other publications.
Originating in comics
Within comics, the term shared universe has been used to reflect the overall milieu created by the comic book publisher in which characters, events, and premises from one product line appear in other product lines in a media franchise.
By 1961, Marvel Comics writer and editor Stan Lee, working with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, merged the bulk of the publisher's comics characters into the Marvel Universe. Marvel sets its stories in an increasing number of alternate realities, each with an assigned number in a greater "multiverse". DC and Marvel have also periodically co-published series in which their respective characters meet and interact. These intercompany crossovers have typically been written as self-limiting events that avoid implying that the DC Universe and Marvel Universe co-exist. Exceptions include the twenty-four comics released under the metafictional imprint Amalgam Comics in 1996, depicting a shared universe populated by hybridizations of the two companies' characters. Marvel has since referred to this as part of its setting's greater multiverse by labeling it Earth-692.
Although DC and Marvel's shared universe approaches to comics have set them apart from competitors in the industry, other companies have attempted similar models. Valiant Comics and Crossgen both produced titles primarily set from their inception in a single, publisher-wide shared universe, known respectively as Unity and the Sigilverse.
Universes in comics
- Amalgam Universe
- DC Universe
- DC animated universe (1992–2006)
- DC animated movie universe (2011–present)
- Arrowverse (2012–present)
- DC Extended Universe (2013–present)
- Marvel Universe / Earth-616
- X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk (1992–1998)
- X-Men film series (2000–present)
- Marvel Mangaverse (2005–2006)
- Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–present)
- Marvel Anime (2010–2014)
- Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Guardians of the Galaxy (2012–present)
- Top Cow Universe
- Valiant Universe
- Vertigo Universe
Originating in video games and the Internet
The influence of the Internet on collaborative and interactive fiction has also resulted in a large number of amateur shared universe settings. Amateur authors have created shared universes by contributing to mailing lists, story archives and Usenet. One of the earliest of these settings, SFStory, saw its spin-off setting Superguy cited as illustrative of the potential of the Internet. Another example is the furry-themed Tales from the Blind Pig created at the Transformation Story Archive which some limited publication. Other early examples include the Dargon Project, Devilbunnies, and the popular SCP Foundation wiki.
Universes in video games
- Super Smash Bros.
- Sonic the Hedgehog universe
- Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs (and possibly Far Cry)
- Hero Universe
- Half-Life and Portal
- Rare universe (Battletoads, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker, etc.)
- Walt Disney Animation Studios/DisneyToon Studios/Disney Television Animation universe (except Planes films which are in the Pixar universe)
- The Pixar universe
- Dexter's Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls
- Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel
- Grim & Evil franchise, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, Ed, Edd n Eddy, My Gym Partner's A Monkey and Camp Lazlo
- Ben 10, Generator Rex and The Secret Saturdays
- Adult Swim universe (Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Robot Chicken, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, etc.)
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius/Planet Sheen and The Fairly Oddparents
- Avatar: The Last Airbender and spin-off/sequel The Legend of Korra
- Nickelodeon-owned Klasky-Csupo universe (Rugrats/All Grown Up, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Wild Thornberrys, Rocket Power, and As Told by Ginger)
- Dora universe (Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go! and Dora and Friends)
- Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs
- Almost every Hanna-Barbera cartoon (except some of the licensed characters) there is also a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe
- The Mask and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
- Tuner-owned pre-1986 MGM classic cartoon universe such as Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Barney Bear, Tex Avery cartoons, etc. (except the Pink Panther cartoon universe, which is still owned by MGM)
- Fox animated universe (The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show)
- Don Bluth universe (Banjo the Woodpile Cat, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven, etc.)
- DiC universe (with the exceptions of licensed characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Nintendo, Archie Comics, Strawberry Shortcake, Madeline, etc.)
- Pink Panther cartoon universe
- DreamWorks Animation universe
- Blue Sky Studios universe (except with The Peanuts Movie and Horton Hears a Who!)
- Illumination Entertainment universe (except with The Lorax)
- Dr. Seuss animated TV special universe (1966-1982)
- Dr. Seuss animated film universe (Blue Sky's Horton Hears a Who!, and Illumination's The Lorax) (2008-present)
- Star Wars Legends (1977–2014)[note 7]
- Tron (1982–2013)
- Ghostbusters (1984–present)
- Jump Street and Men in Black (1987–present)
- Stargate (1994–2011)
- The Librarian (2004–present)
- Disney Channel crossovers
- Expanded universe
- Fictional crossover
- Fictional universe
- Media franchise
- Setting (narrative)
- Spin-off and sister show
- Guiding Light and spin-off Our Private World, As the World Turns, Another World, Somerset, Texas, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.
- General Hospital, Port Charles, General Hospital: Night Shift, The Young Marrieds, One Life to Live, All My Children, Ryan's Hope, Loving, The City and What If....
- Full House and sequel Fuller House, Perfect Strangers and spin-off Family Matters, Step by Step, Boy Meets World and spin-off/sequel Girl Meets World, and Meego.
- Law & Order, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Homicide: Life on the Street, New York Undercover, Deadline, Conviction, In Plain Sight, Jo, and the Chicago franchise (Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med).
- NYPD Blue, Public Morals, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Brooklyn South, Gideon's Crossing, Boston Public and Boston Legal.
- That's So Raven and spin-off Cory in the House, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and spin-offs The Suite Life on Deck, Jessie and BUNK'D; Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, I'm in the Band, Good Luck Charlie, Shake It Up, Austin & Ally and Liv and Maddie.
- The Star Wars expanded universe was rebooted in December 2014, replaced by the all-new Star Wars canon.
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